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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Football Off-Season and Recovering From 'Hits'

Study found some players still showed brain changes 6 months after season had ended
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The lack of recovery could contribute to the white matter changes that accumulate over the years with repetitive head impacts, the researchers noted.

"We are obviously trying to understand, are these changes the beginning of this process?" Bazarian said. They also need to find out why some brains recover more quickly, he added.

"Inflammation may be at play," Bazarian said. "If that's the case, maybe it's a case of preventing inflammation. Maybe more than six months of rest is needed."

The researchers can't say if the changes are "clinically meaningful," Bazarian said. "We found no changes in balance or cognition."

One expert noted there were some limitations to the study.

The findings are "very preliminary," said Dr. John Kuluz, director of traumatic brain injury and neurorehabilitation at Miami Children's Hospital. "It's only a small number of athletes."

Kuluz added that comparing football players to nonathletes was also not ideal. "It would have been much better having swimmers or track and field athletes, some sport where they are not hit on the head."

The white matter changes, as the researchers noted, could have been due to physical exertion, not just the impacts to the head.

However, Bazarian said the findings raise questions about whether hits that fall short of concussions can still lead to neurological problems.

If the research bears out in future studies, one solution may be to take football players out of play when head impacts reach a certain number, to protect their brains.

Until more is known, athletes should pay attention to symptoms suggesting a concussion and get medical help if one is suspected. Headaches, trouble with concentration, sensitivity to light or sound and dizziness are common symptoms of a concussion.

Bazarian reports a pending patent on a method of diagnosing concussion.

The study was funded by the National Football League Charities.

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